MARINElife Survey Report: JR Shipping Dublin-Bilbao-Liverpool 'MV Endeavor' 18th-23rd April 2016

Stephen Dunstan and Graham Ekins; Research Surveyors for MARINElife
Weather:
Southbound:  E 4 to 10 knots. South Biscay E 16 to 20 knots with frequent rains squalls.
Northbound NE 4 to 6 knots later increasing to 16, dry and mainly sunny with good visibility.

Summary of sightings
Cetaceans:
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 22
Bottlenose Dolphin Tursiops truncatus 21
Common Dolphin (Short-beaked) Delphinus delphis 1059
Striped Dolphin Stenella coeruleoalba 22
Risso's Dolphin Grampus griseus 3
Cuvier's Beaked Whale Ziphius cavirostris 6
Unidentified Large Whale sp 3
Unidentified Dolphin sp 5

Seabirds:
Atlantic Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 108
Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus 602
Storm Petrel hydrobates pelagicus 251
Gannet Morus bassanus 535
Cormorant Phalacrocroax carbo 2
Shag Phalacrocorax aristotelis 2
Pomarine Skua Stercorarius pomarinus 2
Arctic Skua Stercorarius parasiticus 1
Great Skua Stercorarius skua 13
Common Guillemot Uria aalge 346
Black Guillemot Cepphus grille 8
Razorbill Alca torda 15
Puffin Fratercula arctica 16
Auk sp. 20
Sandwich Tern Sterna sandvicensis 5
Common Tern Sterna hirundo
Arctic Tern Sterna paradisaea 119
Commic Tern sp 4
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 232
Little Gull Hydrocoloeus minutus 2
Common Gull Larus Canus 6
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 65
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 94
Yellow-legged Gull Larus michahellis 29
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 23
Unidentified Larus Gull sp 226

Terrestrial birds seen during survey:
Mallard Anas platyrhynchos 1
Purple Heron Ardea purpurea 2
Dotterel  Charadrius morinellus 3
Little Ringed Plover Charadrius dubius 3
Bar-tailed Godwit Limosa lapponica 3
Sanderling Calidris alba 20
Dunlin Calidris alpina 29
Common Sandpiper Calidris hypoleucos 2
Woodpigeon Columba palumbus 1
Collared Dove Streptopelia decaocto 1
Turtle Dove Streptopelia turtur 1
Merlin Falco columbarius 1
Rook Corvus frugilegus 1
Skylark Alauda arvensis 1
Sand Martin Riparia riparia 1
Swallow Hirundo rustica 5
House Martin Delichon urbicum 3
Chiffchaff Phylloscopus collybita 2
Willow Warbler Phylloscopus trochilus 1
Blackcap Sylvia atricapilla 1
Sedge Warbler Acrocephalus schoenobaneus 1
Starling Sturnus vulgaris 1
Nightingale Luscinia megarhynchos 1
Redstart Phoenicurus phoenicurus 1
Wheatear Oenanthe oenanthe 1
Yellow Wagtail Motacilla flava flavissima 3
White Wagtail Motacilla alba alba 1
Meadow Pipit Anthus pratensis 5
Linnet Linaria cannabina 2
Goldfinch carduelis carduelis 1
Serin Serinus serinus 1

MV Endeavor

MV Endeavor (Graham Ekins)

Mid-day on Monday 18th April we left our hotel in Blanchardstown and arrived at Dublin Harbour Marine Terminal, the staff were aware of our arrival and quickly organised our transfer to the MV Endeavor. The second officer showed us to our large and well-appointed cabins followed by a security and safety briefing and a tour of the ship. After an excellent evening meal we went up to the bridge where Captain Andrey Zuyonok and his first Officer made us very welcome.  We watched this large ship being manoeuvred and make its way eastwards out of the harbour, an impressive piece of ship craft.  As we left the harbour mouth we were able to see our last Pale-bellied Brent Geese and summer plumaged Black Guillemot.  From then until dusk we were kept very busy logging large numbers of auks, Kittiwake and large gulls. We even had a distant fly past of 4 Manx Shearwater, an Arctic Skua and also logged a single Harbour Porpoise.

Tuesday 19th April 2016

We were up on the bridge by 06.00 on a beautiful sunny morning with not a breath of wind.  Within minutes we started to see cetaceans, the first of which were Short-beaked Common Dolphin quickly followed by Bottlenose and 2 superb Risso's Dolphin. For the rest of the day we then had a steady stream of sightings of Common Dolphin, the majority coming into our bow-wave. As we approached the channel between Lands End and the Scilly Isles we were kept very busy recording a stream of Guillemot, Kittiwake, adult Great Black-backed Gull and Gannet.  We then started to see our first passerines which were a pair of Linnet heading north.

Common Dolphin Graham Ekins 5

Common Dolphins (Graham Ekins)

As we continued south towards the Brittany Peninsular we recorded Goldfinch, Meadow Pipit, 2 Yellow Wagtail, all 3 hirundine (Sand Martin, Swallow and House Martin), Skylark and Blackcap, the latter landing on the ship. As we passed south circa 60 miles west of the Brittany Peninsular we had a steady stream of land birds either circling or passing the ship with some dropping on board, they included Redstart, Willow Warbler, Wheatear and unexpectedly a Nightingale.  This was almost certainly due to the strong easterly wind which blew all day. We logged an impressive six wader species heading rapidly north east low over the waves and across the bows. The highlights being 3 Little Ringed Plover and 3 Dotterel. It was a truly memorable and exciting day.

Meadow Pipit Graham Ekins

Meadow Pipit (Graham Ekins)

This was rather a quiet day with a strong Easterly wind blowing and frequent rain squalls making observation challenging.  At 06.20 Stephen picked up a Turtle Dove roosting in the shelter of one of the containers. We guess it had found the ship during the night. This bird stayed with us until we were just a km from Bilbao port when it took off, flew around the ship then headed off SW. We also logged small groups of Common Dolphin and a superb Risso's Dolphin to starboard.

Birds were few and far between with just the occasional Gannet, Lesser Black-backed and Yellow-legged Gull.  A few adult Yellow-legged Gull came out to the ship as we approached the Bilbao breakwater.

After a very enjoyable evening meal we set up the telescope on deck to view the nearby hillside. We were not disappointed as both Red and Black Kite put in an appearance after just a few minutes. We also had a migrating Honey Buzzard and several views of Raven.  A search of the sky to the east resulted in finding 2 soaring Griffon Vulture and nearer to the boat a Southern Great Grey Shrike perched on a tall twig. For the rest of the evening I wrote up the blog and analysed images while Stephen entered data on the spreadsheet.

Griffon Vulture Graham Ekins

Griffon Vulture (Graham Ekins)

Thursday 21st April

After breakfast Stephen and I took the shuttle bus to the port entrance.  Here the staff kindly called a taxi for us.  The driver took us close to the telephone / radar tower on the top of the ridge viewable from the port.  It was a cool but clear morning which was great for walking.  Almost immediately we had superb views of migrating Griffon Vulture and the local Raven.  We then saw the first of many wall butterflies and Bath White, followed by a pair of Crested Tit that showed well in the first patch of conifers below the summit.  As we walked downhill we observed large numbers of Blackcap and Garden Warbler while below us 2 Black Kite drifted along the ridge.  Stephen then found a photogenic singing male Cirl Bunting while the female was busy nest-building in a large bramble clump.  By the end of the morning we had seen several pairs. We were delighted to see a Perez Frog, an Iberian speciality in a small pool by the side of the road.  The grassland was full of spring flowers while a nearby flowering cherry had a couple of Ilex Hairstreaks nectaring.   We also had great views of the Iberian alpinus form of Red Squirrel. This is much darker than our animals in the UK with longer tufts on the tips of the ears. In the more open areas we found a pair of handsome Iberian Stonechat and a couple of Serin, while in nearby trees a Pied Flycatcher.

Towards the lower end of the road a lot of tree planting has been completed, this semi-open area had Black Redstart and a pair of White Wagtail. After this very enjoyable walk we made our way back to the entrance gate where the security staff called the shuttle bust to take us back to the Endeavor.

Friday 22nd April

We had left Bilbao harbour mid-evening and by morning were over deep water in central Biscay.  This was another memorable day with almost flat calm conditions until mid-afternoon when a light NE breeze started up.  It was also the warmest day at 24oC by 13.00. We started with groups of Common Dolphin all around us with hundreds logged by evening, many were fishing and attracted in groups of migrating Arctic Tern and the occasional Common Tern. We also found an energetic group of Striped Dolphin. We then had a pod of 6 small whales on the starboard side.  We identified them as the rare Cuvier's Beaked Whale.  Shortly afterwards we picked up 2 adult Purple Heron that came in from the SW and continued their leisurely migration north east, we were 120 miles off shore at the time.

Shortly afterwards, another group of Striped Dolphin rapidly passed the ship and then Stephen picked up a distant large whale.  An hour later this was repeated with more Striped Dolphins and I then found 2 large whales which were almost certainly Fin at a distance to the south east. Frustratingly I could not find them through the scope or pick up the blow.

As we continued north we had Meadow Pipit, Yellow and White Wagtail passed the ship, all seemed to take a quick look and then continue their migration. For a couple of minutes late morning a female Merlin roosted on one of the containers before setting off rapidly north in the light breeze. Early afternoon saw the arrival of an exhausted Woodpigeon that dropped onto a container and drank from a puddle.

Merlin Graham Ekins

Merlin (Graham Ekins)

Later that afternoon, a Collared Dove appeared and for a while the pigeon and the dove roosted together. During the afternoon we continued to log large numbers of Common Dolphin, many of the adults had well grown calves with them.  As in the morning feeding groups of dolphins attracted passing flocks of Arctic Tern. We were then amazed to see a black mass of small birds in the distance.  Through the scope we could clearly see it was a group of c.100 Storm Petrel roosting in a tight group on the sea, something we had never seen before.  As we approached they took flight and rapidly dispersed.  We came across another roost of 100 about 20 minutes later followed by a smaller group of 20.  We also had distant views of several others.

We also logged several Great Skua including an interesting bird in full wing moult which proved to be in its second calendar year. Towards evening, 10 Sanderling flew past heading north east while several more Common Dolphin were recorded as well as a few Puffin.

Puffin Graham Ekins

Puffin (Graham Ekins)

Saturday 23rd April

This was to be our last full day surveying. We were in the Celtic Sea steadily moving north.  From first light the sea was alive with Manx Shearwater zipping across the bows. There were also many Gannet and Guillemot passing to and from distant Grassholm and Skokholm Islands.  Stephen picked up several small groups of Common Dolphin, then as we headed into the Irish Sea they were replaced by Harbour Porpoise.  The further north we went the quieter the seas became.

With a light north east and clear skies we had several land birds pass the ship, they included Meadow Pipit, Swallow and a House Martin. In the evening as we rounded the north-western tip of Anglesey the wind picked up and we started to see increasing numbers of Manx Shearwater, Guillemot, Kittiwake a Sandwich Tern and a Harbour Porpoise.

That night we anchored off Liverpool and in the morning passed up river and through the lock to Gladstone Dock.  This was the end of our very enjoyable and fascinating survey.  Before we left the MV Endeavor we thanked Captain Andrey Zuyonok and his crew for their friendliness and hospitality.  We also thanked the cook for providing such superb food.

Stephen Dunstan and Graham Ekins; Research Surveyors for MARINElife